2021 World Series Preview: The Beginning of the End

With October rearing to a head, a bittersweet aroma clings around the air for Baseball fans. Perhaps this is no aroma, but just a deeply integrated feeling of uncertainty. On one hand, the World Series is upon us. The most anticipated event of the year is so close to concluding, giving away the satisfaction that all fans crave. On the other, the imminent end of this series means that there will be no Major League Baseball for three months, a sad thought. Hence, the sugary yet tangy feeling. But, here lies the nature of the beast. Every good thing must come to an end, and this is no exception. So, even if the reader is troubled by this, remember to enjoy what is happening now - the best of baseball.


So, let’s start with the basics of the matchups. After defeating Boston in a 4-2 series, the Houston Astros will be returning to the World Series to represent the AL bracket. On the NL side, surprisingly upsetting the favorite LA Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves look to take a trophy home to Georgia. This matchup is especially surprising considering the Braves genuinely struggled to win the NL East, arguably the weakest division in the entire MLB. Even so, they’re here! This matchup begins on Tuesday, October 26 at 8:09 PM in Minute Maid Park. But in actuality, how do these teams compare? What type of series should be expected? To answer these questions and more, both teams and their narratives will be thoroughly examined.


Houston Astros


What to Expect:

The Houston Astros have been nothing short of a powerhouse this year. This is primarily due to their explosive offensive lineup. Led by Kyle Tucker (.294/.359/.557, 147 wRC+), Yordan Alvarez (.277/.346/.531, 138 wRC+), and Carlos Correa (.279/.366/.485, 134 wRC+), there is little to not fear when facing this team. As a collective unit, they were first in AVG, OBP, and Runs. And in advanced stats, they also led the league in wRC+ and fWAR. The offense is so good, they did not have one single below-average hitter in their healthy starting lineup. Even with a somewhat strong Atlanta rotation and a good bullpen, Houston will more than likely make themselves easily seen on the base paths.


On the defensive side of the ball, while above average, they’re nothing to get excited over. Ranking 13th in K/9 and 7th in ERA, they’ll stand as a challenge to a strong Braves offense, but not a very strong one. The advanced measures also provide similar results, which means this may be a somewhat high-scoring series.


The Storylines:

Ever since the allegation and ultimate conviction of the Houston Astros for sign-stealing during their 2017 run, they have been endlessly hazed by fans. Questioning the legitimacy of that championship, the Astros continue to have a chip on their shoulder. And thus far, this team appears to be playing legitimately. Acknowledging their prior wrongs, it is almost unnecessary for MLB fans to keep dragging on the past narrative. It is overdone, or at least in my personal opinion. If they manage to win, this would prove to both fans and haters alike that they can win legitimately, as well as hopefully silence naysayers (although they somehow always seem to come back). With multiple franchise players (Altuve, Bregman, Correa) continuing to stay with the team despite the hurdles, their ability to overcome adversity should at least be respected. And with how they’re playing lately, it’s hard not to root for the talented stars. In the end, one may be able to morally justify rooting for the favorites by appreciating their attempt to end their villainous narrative through many obstacles.


Atlanta Braves


What to Expect:

Unlike the Astros, the Braves were far from a strong force in the regular season. Finishing 6 games above their next opponent despite failing to win 90 games, the team was largely written off. Then, they defeated a fierce competitor in the Brewers, who some experts had winning the World Series. Most suspected this to be an anomaly (including me), deeming the lack of a Best-of-7 series as the reason for this upset. Facing a heavy Dodgers team in a regular playoff series, there was no possible way they were going to win again. But, they did.


Offensively, this sudden turn of success can be owed to a couple of key players. Eddie Rosario, the NLCS MVP, has had a crazy month, hitting .474/.524/.789 with 3 Homeruns. Joc Pederson, the trade deadline acquisition, made quite a splash, slashing .276/.323/.586 with 3 Homeruns. Along with Braves-legend Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson, a continuance of a great offense against an Astros staff is likely.


The rotation, as well as the bullpen, have also done their part in this unexpected quest. Charlie Morton (3.77 ERA, .192 BAA) and Max Fried (3.78 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) both provided quality outings when necessary, giving the team a bit of a breather. And to help, relievers have been lights out. Tyler Matzek (1.74 ERA, 17K/10.1 IP), A.J. Minter (0.00 ERA, 0.55 WHIP), and Will Smith (0.00 ERA, .136 BAA) have almost been impossible to be successful against, making a late comeback unlikely. With this staff going against the hardest offense it has faced all season, a hard-fought battle will be evident.


The Storylines:

It is in human nature to want to root for the underdogs. So naturally, most fans who do not have a team left will gravitate towards the Braves, as they are not favored to win. This break that has come their way is long overdue, as the team has not won a World Series since 1995 (a 26-year span). But if anything, those two reasons are not the defining points in supporting this team. Early in the season, Atlanta lost MVP frontrunner Ronald Acuna to a torn ACL. Acuna was ruled out for the year, and the Braves were now missing quite a huge bat. Already struggling to stay competitive, one could’ve easily assumed that this was the ultimate nail-in-the-coffin for this franchise. The reality was far from expectation. Overcoming the odds ever since longtime Brave Freddie Freeman may just get the chance to win one for his team. This team has all the qualities of a potential fairytale story, making rooting for them that much easier.


Conclusion:


With a lot of information listed prior, the basic chart below outlines the odds and basic statistics of the two contenders:

*fWAR, Rank, and Odds via Fangraphs. **Las Vegas Odds via Caesars Sportsbook


Both teams overcame the odds. Both teams overcame adversity. Both teams were not taken seriously. And while the Astros are a clear favorite as shown in the chart, this matchup will be highly competitive. With clear strengths and weaknesses evident on each side, a winner is not clear at this point. If the Astros manage to win another trophy, the “ASTerisks” era will more than likely come to a close, marking a shift in the culture of baseball’s ultimate villain. If the Braves gain the jewelry, a true underdog story similar to the 2016 World Series will be again showcased in baseball, proving that money is not everything in deciding a champion. No matter the ending, the 2021 World Series will be one to remember.


Sources:


Baseball-reference.com

CBSSports.com

Fangraphs.com

MLB.com